My Top Tips to Writing More

As I close this round of posts for Blogchatter Half Marathon on reading, I realised that I haven’t talked about writing much. I believe that reading and writing are part of the same experience, just different ways of expression.

Here are some of the ways I ensure that I am on track where my writing is concerned.

1. Create time and space
This is a pet topic and a pet peeve with me. All I want is unlimited time to write, where I can brew ideas in my mind, let them mature and when they are ready, put them on paper. I also need a quiet space, in fact lots of quiet spaces where I can move through them, deepening the solitude so that the best words come pouring out.
This however, is very difficult to achieve in our busy lives. And if I keep waiting for the right time, I may never write.
I have a few workarounds for this. I subscribe to the concept of deep work. If I can take out 2-3 hours of uninterrupted, unhurried time when all is quiet, I am good. I also keep taking notes through the day, mining ideas in a way, so that I can get back to them at leisure.

2. Leverage the power of internet
Internet is indispensable when it comes to researching. It’s also very distracting when it comes to the actual writing. Rather than hate the internet, I just switch it off at certain times. I also see it as a friend. In these times, when internet has been the only place we could venture out to and the only place that had a stimulating environment, I noted down all the inspiring and motivating thoughts I got while browsing. I actually have a collection of screenshots, web urls, voice notes, images all in a day.

3. The perfect place to write
I like the lawn, near the bushes, underneath the trees, when I write. This place also has a helluva lot of mosquitoes. So I swap it for indoors. On the couch, or the easy chair. After a few minutes it doesn’t really matter. Once you are in the groove, you don’t notice anything around you. I once sat on the window sill in the kitchen for a few hours and wrote the best scene I had ever written. It was so far back in the recesses of my imagination that the cold marble didn’t matter. I wouldn’t mind a cabin tucked away in the mountains for a few weeks but I have lived in the metaphorical cabin and it makes a difference to your mindset, yes, but very little. The difference is as much as you allow your mind to feel.

4. Keep at it
Push yourself to write more often, even if you are sure it’s crap. It builds your writing muscle. I have had many doubts around this and I still baulk at putting out substandard stuff out there but writing more helps you to ease back to writing even after long breaks.
There would always be setbacks, rejections, disappointments. Life would suddenly get busy and your time to write might shrink. Keep at it anyway.

5. Don’t take yourself seriously
Writing may be more than your vocation. I sometimes feel writing is the way to live fully; it’s the perfect opportunity to live sincerely and search out the truth. When you write from the heart, about things that are true and right and fair, it’s shining light on a part of you that would have remained unexplored.
And yet, to go forward, take writing as something you are experimenting with. Change things around, whether it’s your writing routine, your writing voice, the format – change from long to short, from essays to poetry. You are given the gift of the word, not just a genre and a way of writing. There are more things you are capable of. Find joy in the process of writing rather than saying I Must.

I would love to hear about your experiences. What’s your best tip to a writer out there?

This post is part of Blogchatter Half Marathon.


My Top Tricks to Reading More

I have been reading much more than last year and that alone gives me the qualification to giving gyaan on how to get more reading done.

Here are the top things that work for me, when it comes to reading.

1. Don’t make reading a chore. Read more because you want to, not because you have to or because you have set an arbitrary goal for yourself. If you need to, change your goal 😛

2. Or change the books you are reading. May be you are reading a book that you don’t particularly enjoy. Or maybe you have just chosen a new genre and it’s not clicking. No matter what it is, don’t drag it on for very long.

3. Put reading in your schedule. Make it part of your day, just like your walk or that show on TV. Choose a time when you are not rushed or have a lot of things on your mind.

4. If you don’t have the time, take time away from something else in your day. Ditch that show, or the gossipy phone call. Heck, just a few minutes and you could have covered a few pages or even a chapter!

5. Always have a book on hand
I have always liked what and how Stephen King is rumoured to be reading – everywhere, a book always with him. Imagine the bliss of tuning out the noise of the commute, the panic of a dentist’s waiting room or the emotionally draining TV dramas and just read. Of couse if I am that consistent at reading, ultimately I get more reading done.

6. Get a community
Be part of a bookish community, people who are as passionate about reading as you are. You can share recommendations, rant and rave about your recent reads and if nothing else be reassured that there are people just as weird as you in this world.

How do you manage to read a lot?

This post is part of Blogchatter Half Marathon.

What’s to love about a book for children

Word books, comic books, illustrated books, storybooks – children have it good. In my home, the books that we buy for children find readers in adults too. I read most of the books they get and discuss them as well. In many cases, my kids memorise phrases, dialogue and passages and till they have the book fever, it finds a mention in our daily jokes and conversations.

It isn’t just me. Lots of adults confess to love children’s books. I think it’s because of their simplicity, vulnerability and curiosity.

Books for children have simple and direct language which is refreshing for us adults. I don’t mean that they are for people who are challenged, vocabulary-wise but because we are so used to couching experiences in complicated metaphors and explaining things for a purpose that the honest language is a whiff of fresh air.

“Everyone is a bit scared but we are less scared together.” – The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy

The unlikely friends in this book share a lot of wisdom through their simple observations about the world and life.

The honesty extends to feelings and experiences. If it’s a bad situation, well, it’s awful and that’s that. There’s no looking at the larger picture; everything is in the moment. Children feel unhappy, disappointed, let-down – they express it. Or at the very least, the feelings are talked about, not swept under the carpet to emerge as a neurosis years later.

“Ma, I want to tell you something. In our yard, there’s a passageway” – Some Days by Maria Wernicke.

It’s a beautiful book, sparse in words, with large illustrations, a lot of emotions expressed and acknowledged in just a few words.

These books are so joyful because everything’s new from the eyes of a child. Children are still exploring the physical world and getting new experiences. Don’t we wish we had the curious eyes and mind of a child all over again?

“The umbrella was like a flower, a great blue flower that had sprung up on the dry brown hillside.” – The Blue Umbrella by Ruskin Bond

I wish I had the pure, unadulterated joy of owning something as simple as an umbrella, even giving it up to someone who has actually tried to harm you. Lovely life lessons from this book.

Click on the book links to read my thoughts on them in detail. Tell me about a book for children that you read recently.

This post is part of Blogchatter Half Marathon.

Translated Literature: a Window to Other Cultures

Till a few years back I was reading literature mainly by Western authors. I never made a distinction of authors belonging to a particular geographical region. I read what was around me, what was easily accessible.

In my childhood, the school libraries were full of delicious books but all Enid Blyton, Agatha Christie, Carolyn Keene, Arthur Conan Doyle. As I graduated to reading the classics, again I got hold of masters whose stories were of lands far from my own. I don’t regret reading them, in fact my life was the richer because of them but looking back, I wonder where were the Indian authors? The libraries certainly had very few of them; the bookstores even fewer.

In recent times, I saw people talking about reading indigenous literature, minority literature, translated works and at a point, I was proud of not making such distinctions. I read what catches my fancy; I don’t proscribe any genre or format (I still enjoy children’s books very much, but more on that in another blog post).

It’s only in the past couple of years that I have happened to appreciate books set in India, and even more importantly, books belonging to different regions of India and the joy of translated works. Right now I want to go on a reading spree picking books from all regions of India, but other books keep happening along the way.

I have been fortunate to read some real gems this year. And how do I know it’s this year? Thanks to Blogchatter’s TBR Challenge, I am much more organised and mindful of my reads.

Purists might argue that translation loses some part of the true essence of the book but frankly I am happy to get whatever it gives me. My world and understanding is richer for all the books I have read from different parts of the country, knowing their culture, mannerisms, unique names (I found so many in Teresa’s Man and Other Stories from Goa by Damodar Mauzo and translated from Konkani by Xavier Cota), places and turns of phrases that sometimes the English translations keep. Or mention in an afterword. I particularly remember the use, rather the omission of the word ‘re’ in the book Cobalt Blue by Sachin Kundalkar in Marathi, translated by Jerry Pinto to English, because Jerry felt that the intensity and intimacy of the word did not have an English equivalent. Considering that the book is about the emotional baggage of forbidden relationships, it makes the reader wonder how much more beautiful the prose must be in Marathi.

Another book, Meesha by S. Hareesh, originally in Malayalam and Moustache in English, translated by Jayasree Kalathil (here’s a wonderful session in which she converses with Jenny Bhatt on the bigger picture of translated works) gave me a glimpse into the oral storytelling traditions.

While a lot of people bemoaned that it did not have a linear narrative, nor a clear timeline, these very things fascinated me. Here was a story told for the sake of the story. It’s also a narrative that talks about the history, cultural traditions, the standing of women in the society and even social evils all entwined in the story of a mythical being with a huge moustache, a story that reached mythical proportions through the workers in the rice fields who sang of these things while harvesting. Isn’t that what happens in real life too? I have written about what I thought of the book here.

Tell me about a translated work you have read recently and that left a deep impact on you.

This post is part of Blogchatter Half Marathon.

What Makes Writing Good

There are certain conventions when it comes to judging a written piece. Show, don’t tell, don’t use adverbs, have uniform pacing, don’t vary the narrative voices too much, a linear narrative works best etc.

We also place too much importance on genres. We tend to categorise books as per genre and expect the storyline and tropes to be representative. When I read book reviews, I often come across book bloggers trying to slot the book, to argue in which genre it belongs, talk about plot, pacing and characterisation with respect to the genre.

Many of us hawkishly skim the works of other writers looking for adverbs, pointing out how the author has used them liberally and we feel superior for having recognised that.

However, many a times, I read a book that sort of turned the conventions on its head, those of show not tell, using adverbs etc and yet as a reader I loved the book. What was wrong? My experience as a reader or my experience as a writer?

I recently read a book that had a non linear narrative and that drew heavily from oral storytelling aspects and it worked so well. I talk of S. Hareesh’s ‘Moustache‘ in a blog post.

Reading and writing are the double helix of literary pursuits but we cannot ignore the importance of influences like other art forms, that are indigenous to us, namely oral storytelling, folk forms that are a window to our culture exposing the beliefs that have shaped us.

I often find a wealth of meaning in the folk songs. The choice of words, the wit, the themes, are all very indicative of the culture. Why then should we not draw from these forms and write.

What, as per you, makes a story beautiful, moving, or good?

This post is part of Blogchatter Half Marathon.

Voracious Readers vs Mere Readers

True book nerds always have a book under their arm or in their digital library. Here are a few things that distinguish a voracious reader from the one who – um, reads the occasional book, because everyone else seems to be reading it.

Photo by Sofia Alejandra from Pexels

1. They are not intimidated by books
Whether it’s a tome or a slim paperback, a classic or a light novella, philosophy or a genre they are most comfortable with, any book is game for the voracious reader provided it’s well-written.

2. They like being hyphenated with books
Book worm, book nerd, book lover are not really derogatory to their ears even when others mean it this way. Anything bookish gets their attention and affection.

3. To them, every place is suited to reading
Window seats, comfortable armchairs, beanbags, a quiet corner of the house, the library – these are mere crutches for the uninitiated. A really voracious reader will grab a book and read with great concentration even in the midst of a noisy mid-day office rush.

4. No eating, only reading is their mantra
Voracious readers are known to shun food in favour of reading. In the unlikely event of them being offered snacks, they would rather not eat and spoil the book/e-reader with their greasy fingers. As per a recent survey, there’s an unexplored market for ‘reader-eats’, snacks that are non-spilling and non-greasy for readers to nourish themselves as they reread the fantasy book series over the weekend.

5. Solitude over company is their priority
Spending weekends curled up with a book while the rest of the world is partying or hiking or whatever they did before and during a pandemic is a no-brainer.

6. Concentration is their middle name
Reading a number of books at the same time, not even losing the threads of the plot or the backstory of the minor characters over the time it takes to finish them all is less-celebrated attribute. However, voracious readers don’t even care what the world thinks about multi-taskers or multi-readers.

Surely, a few things popped into your mind as you read the post. What do you think is a voracious reader’s most striking characteristic?

This post is part of Blogchatter Half Marathon.

Creative Writing Exercises: Excerpts from Building a Writing Practice

Daily 20 minute exercises to energize and get your creative juices flowing

Creative writing exercises can help you warm-up for a marathon writing session, beat the dreaded writer’s block, give you variety in your writing and a sense of accomplishment when you finish these.

These warm up exercises help you get into the mood and get flexible over a period of time. You won’t look at your writing projects with dread anymore.

You can take 20 – 30 minutes doing these everyday. If there is a particular exercise you like very much, you can of course repeat it. If there’s an exercise that confuses you, you can of course come back to it later.

Image courtesy Pixabay

Find analogies for everyday life

“If people were like rain, I was like drizzle and she was a hurricane.”

John Green

Unconventional comparisons of things and events in your writing will make the reader take notice. Make sure that the metaphors and the analogues actually fit and are not written for the sake of it.

Exercise: Describe your routine and find comparisons to make things poetic. Pouring water into the pan for making tea could be akin to a symphony in your mind. As you dust the furniture, the dust motes rising in the air might remind you of dandelions as they disintegrate. Find at least ten different analogies.

How does it help: When you make a connection between unrelated things, you are being creative. It helps you to look for connections in an original manner and to be able to spot netaphors and similes in others’ writing.

All your bestsellers

“A summary of every Jewish holiday. They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat.”

Alan King

Some days you seem to be full of so many story ideas that you don’t know where yo begin. Make it a practice to write down your ideas when they occur to you. Keep a dedicated notebook for your ideas, phrases that catch your fancy or even moments that touch you deeply.

Exercise: Imagine you are going to write half a dozen bestsellers. Now go ahead and write the book blurbs for them.

How does it help: It preserves your story ideas and gives you an understanding of a catchy blurb that draws in a reader.

Be Famous

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

Annie Dillard

Exercise: Summarise your average day with an eye on events as a newspaper headline reporting sensational news. Rather than writing about one event in your day, summarize your entire day as several different newspaper headlines. Go for a few click bait titles while you are at it. A few examples:

“Stressed employee regrets not emailing the reports on time.”

“Hungry cat escapes home; finds a feast in the neighbourhood garbage dump.” (If you are a cat)

How does it help: It incorporates fun in your writing, making you adept at looking at things from a different angle and of course, putting you at the centre of the story.

If you liked the writing exercises, you can head over to the Blogchatter library and download my ebook for free.

This post is part of Blogchatter Half Marathon.

Building a Writing Practice: The Backstory

This year I wrote a book. What’s amazing is that the book is for writers and about building your writing skills and it got written in the midst of a writing drought of sorts.

I had planned to write every day this year for A2Z. Of course, life happened and though I had planned a bit and had outlines and rough drafts of a few posts, that was not enough. It wasn’t just a not-enough-time kind of thing. It was a sense of dread and even a deadening with the second wave of Covid wreaking havoc across India.

I knew of people who suffered through illness or death of their loved ones. It felt a travesty of sorts, writing about books, celebrating stories when there was so much that had to be righted in the world.

But art has a way to redeem and to heal. In difficult times, we turn to art and creative activities because it’s an outlet of our emotions. It’s subtle, can be interpreted in any way your mental state allows you to and through the power of strong imagery or association you can find healing.

I needed to get back to writing, not just talk of other books but my own beliefs. I needed the discipline and the guidance to keep writing, improve in little ways without feeling stressed or pushed to perform spectacularly. I needed to write, progress even if in little bits and have the satisfaction that I was working on my craft. I needed to go full steam when I felt better emotionally.

So I wrote the book I needed to read. I collated writing exercises that I have used and that I liked. I put them together, in no particular order. I explained them briefly and mentioned how they help.

But I was reticent still. I didn’t want to read long drawn passages so I wrote with directness and brevity, trusting that my readers, if there were any, would want the same. Lastly, I put the emotional connect that I had with the exercises, through quotes of eminent writers, people with great wisdom who knew what they were saying.

I published this short book as an e-book to reach the reader who has the time to spend on digital platforms but is still too weary or unable to pick a physical book.

It’s available for free download in Blogchatter library. There are a number of other books there, in many genres so maybe you would like to explore a bit and find a few good reads.

This post is part of Blogchatter Half Marathon.

The House

Picture courtesy Pexels

The house was alive, squirrels scampered about, there were beetles in the knee-high grass, sharp thorns embedded themselves in socks and leggings as they were waded through, root tendrils sprouted between the bricks, a sapling showed its green next to the chopped tree trunk, birds sang a raucous chorus at dawn. At dusk, fireflies flickered about in the dark patch of mango trees, the grape vine had twisted itself around the guava tree, shading the stone bench below. Trees shed leaves and with the breeze they were dragged across the stone pathway, making large piles near the walls where the fruit laden tree branches hung low.

The large leaves in the banana grove turned yellow. Walking up to it, looking at the large bunches of fruit, one would step on the wild mint bushes and the crushed leaves would give off a strong aroma. In the evenings, a strong wind grew and the mangoes thudded down, in quick succession on the bed of dried leaves. Angry bees swarmed around the ripe fruit.

Thick creepers grew up the tree trunks and one had to shade the eyes just following their progress to the crown of the tall trees. The trees spread over half of the roof, the dripping sound from a leaky water tank not heard above the rustle of the leaves.

The mud floor of a half finished room was green with the moss, treacherous to walk on. The dog wandered in, once in a while, sniffing about, raising dust as sunlight slanted in from a missing brick high up in the outer wall.

There were whispers of ‘haunted’ whenever people walked through the fields, nearing the house, looking for a shorter route to their own houses.

This post is part of Blogchatter’s My Friend Alexa.

Coffee Meet-up

Coffee is said to encourage conversations. I have a virtual coffee date with my readers once in a while where I imagine what we would talk about if we were face-to-face, sitting down to coffee.

If we were having coffee, I would tell you how much I have missed meeting you over these past few months. It isn’t just the pandemic or the changed world order or the fact that we actively avoid the people we had loved to meet.
I would tell you that it’s the heartfelt connection that matters and if you allow yourself to be real and flawed and vulnerable, that connection is easier to forge.
You would laugh, for you know how much I like hiding away, in more ways than one. You would look down into the cup, seemingly observing the coffee and would ask me gently if I was ready to open up.

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that I haven’t been writing much, nor getting the yearning, for I have been feeding my soul in other ways. I would tell you of things that I write, like those little snippets of text you see on product packaging. I would point out that I had always read that hungrily and the newspaper bags, opening the glued flaps  gingerly lest they tear and turn it all around till I had read everything on that paper bag.
I would also tell you that given a chance I would write only for myself, of myself and of thoughts, impressions and memories.

If we were having coffee, I would scrape the metal chair back on the cobblestones and get up to fetch another cup. We would be in our favourite place, the bamboo garden, with racks loaded with magazines from all around the world. I would get you milky and sweet cup and refill mine with strong bitter brew. We would look around, lost in our thoughts, and yet thinking nearly the same things, revisiting the beloved memories of winding roads and long walks in cold weather.
I would ask you if you have been visiting our favourite haunts and you would say no, they were not the same without me.

If we were having coffee, I would ask you what you have been reading these days. While listening to you, I would half smile and half turn my face to look across the table, to think of those other books I had never read but knew through you and how they had made you feel.
I would also think of the books that I had borrowed from you and how they had changed my perspective.

If we were having coffee, I would sit up and sigh and interrupt you mid-sentence to ask if you remembered the time we would simply walk up to a park bench and sit together in comfortable silence, not needing to talk. You would smile that smile which made the corners of your mouth all crinkly and say yes, those are the best moments of our life.

If we were having coffee, I would promise to meet up again soon while picking my things, preparing to leave and you would tell me in your low mellifluous voice, yes, if we are alive.

This post is written as part of Blogchatter’s #MyFriendAlexa.